Before we talk about becoming a virtual assistant, let’s have a quick rundown of what a VA actually is:
Often abbreviated to VA, a virtual (office) assistant is a professional who provides technical, administrative, creative or social assistance to other in a remote work environment. Essentially, a remote administrative job.
That’s my definition, anyway. Many VAs work as freelancers, often for one, two or more clients. But more and more companies are willing to hire many of their admin staff virtually. Simply because it saves on space.
Becoming a VA has a lot of perks: it’s a pretty flexible job, and it can be done from anywhere (which is the whole point). Additionally, many virtual assistants work as freelancers. Unlike copywriting however, you’ll usually have a chunk of hours each day where you work for a specific client. Which means that the gigs you land are usually long-term and have a certain amount of stability. Handy!
What you should know before becoming a virtual assistant
The job description “virtual assistant” actually encompasses a wide range of different skills. No two VAs have the exact same skillset: in fact, some may specialize in particular types of assistant (technical, administrative, emotional support… well okay, the last one was a joke but may be true in some cases. Watch out!).
Becoming a virtual assistant shouldn’t be viewed as a single, step-by-step process. Instead, you should consider yourself a sort of a “jack of all trades”. At the very essence of the job, you’re providing assistance to an individual. Basically, you have a set of skills and offer to use those skills to make another person’s job easier.
For example, a virtual assistant could…
Work as a content manager, uploading content to websites and various other platforms.
Set social media strategies.
Write content (if they’re good enough…)
Deal with technical issues on a website.
Do online research.
Book flights and holidays, schedule meetings, answer emails (very much in the realm of a “traditional” assistant).
And much, much more…
The tasks of a VA really depend on the needs of your client/company. Which is why when applying for a job or pimping yourself out, you should be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. And then focus on your strengths.
Equipping Yourself to Become a VA: The core skills needed
What I just gave was an overview of what VAs do. But there are “core” skills and traits that you need to have if you’re interested in becoming a virtual assistant. Many of these skills can be learned. You of course need to have some clerical office skills (at the base of it, a VA is simply an office clerk that doesn’t sit in the office). You should also be computer literate – you don’t have to be a tech wizard (very few in the “online” industry actually are), but you should know your way around a computer.
Being able to learn and adapt are also highly important. Technology changes rapidly, as do many online industries. You’ve got to be able to move with the times and learn new software fast. One client may require you to work with Excel, the other with some bizarre open source program. You as a VA must be able to adapt – quickly – to appease all your clients.
If you’re an experienced professional, you probably already have a significant number of skills that’ll help you work as a VA.
The best advice I could give you is to do your research. See what the most in-demand skills are for VAs and assess whether or not your skillset is good enough. If not – well, get learning!
We Work Remotely is a pretty well-curated list of remote and telecommute jobs. They were definitely on my list when looking for a remote position – and will be if I have to again.
They claim to be the largest online community for work at home job seekers (150,000 monthly, or so the site says).
And of course, you can get jobs of all kinds. Full-time freelance, subcontractor, full time and part-time positions.
First impression – We Work Remotely is quite professional
WeWorkRemotely.com is part of a new wave of telecommute job boards. They’re also linked to a few others like Unicorn Hunt (for start ups) and Fresh Gigs (for anyone interested in marketing). There’s also Future Jobs (AI, data science and machine learning). So, not a bad resource for any potential remote worker.
I definitely kept them on my watchlist and you should too. Especially if you’re into online marketing or software engineering (and let’s face it, currently the majority of remote jobs are in software).
What are the most common industries found on this platform?
Anything new and cutting edge. We’ve already mentioned software engineering (web dev positions are available here as well). I also saw a significant number of design jobs that were regularly posted. These included careers like product designer, marketing designer and jobs in the UI/UX field.
There’s also a boatload of customer support jobs. If you like customer service (or don’t mind it…) and want to work from home, then you’ve got a bunch to choose from. I was also happy to see the sales and marketing section, which was also quite large. These included telecommute jobs in the area of content marketing, project management and even public relations. Not bad.
When it came specifically to copywriting jobs… There were a few, but it was slim pickings. Unfortunately.
So are they worth it?
For me, anyway, they were. If you’re a techie, designer or a marketer then you should keep your eye on We Work Remotely. But like all remote job boards, it’s really important to expand your search and cast your net as wide as possible!
Working Nomads only offers remote and telecommute jobs – with a focus on digital nomads. Of course it’s not restricted to digital nomads only – remote job seekers will find a wealth of different advertisements here as well.
Like most remote-only job boards and sites, those applying through Working Nomads will face a lot of competition.
This platform is pretty simple. A lot of the jobs posted can also be found on other job sites. However, very occasionally you may find something here that’s no posted anywhere else.
What kind of jobs can I find on Working Nomads?
Like all remote job boards, you’ll definitely find plenty of open positions in the software/IT/tech industry. They’ve even got separate categories for Systems Administration, Design and Development.
Beyond that, you’ll find other categories like…
Consulting: Tech-related consulting at that. Which shouldn’t be a surprise.
Writing: Another broad field hard to pin down. Writing positions vary from journalism to content marketing and technical writing.
Finance jobs are sometimes posted here (tax advisors, bookkeepers, underwriters etc.)
Human resources although there weren’t quite a lot of them.
General administration such as case managers, online scheduling, broker assistant etc.
Heathcare jobs like medical coding and scheduling.
…and even a few legal jobs.
There’s also a few education jobs for online tutors and online teachers.
Sadly, like most of these platforms, the remote jobs available on Working Nomads lean heavily towards tech or maybe online marketing/general digital media. If you’re not looking for a job in these areas, then don’t rely solely on this board!
Overall, is it worth it or should I pass?
No matter what kind of remote job you’re looking for, I would highly recommend at least signing up for their job alerts. When looking for a new job, it’s important to pull out all the stops and keep your eyes open. You may have a very slim chance of getting something here – but you never know.
Remote working seems like a dream come true for many. Yet I’ve met a considerable number of employees who, although they’d like the freedom, don’t feel comfortable with the set-up. That’s understandable. I will say that right now at my job, I very much feel like the remote environment is a bit of a hinderance.
Aside from the flexibility and the ability to work in an environment that suits you, remote working can give you the feeling of… Well, not doing much.
Remote working is an AWFUL and FANTASTIC setup.
It’s pretty awful if you like being around people. It’s also awful if there are quiet times at your company and you literally have nothing to do. Sitting at your kitchen table, still drawing a salary and having nothing to do (so, you go clean the bathroom or whatever) – it can be pretty discouraging.
On the flipside, you can end up getting a lot of housework done. Those who commute two hours a day often don’t have the luxury of simply having that much time.
Why remote working really is terrible
If you’re used to a traditional office environment, a remote setup can be a huge adjustment. Offices have a specific flow to them: you show up, you turn on your computer, you get coffee… A lot of those jobs allow you to ease into the workday. Simply arriving at work, saying hello to colleagues and spending that first hour “settling” in is often counted as work. Even if you haven’t really produced anything.
In a remote setup? It’s pretty different.
You’re mostly going to be judged by what you produced. Have those files been organized? Have you emailed those ten people? Written these eight articles? Solved these three problems?
But wait, there’s more: If you do actually need to speak to someone, you can’t just walk across the room and talk to them. They won’t be sitting next to you. No, you’ll actually have to write to them. Or phone them or organize a call.
Which often means you really need to think about what it is you want to ask. You need to take initiative. That’s quite difficult for some people.
Some good news… why remote working is fantastic
If you’re someone who doesn’t like being in the same place every day, remote working’s got a few good points. You don’t have to sit at your desk: you can move to the kitchen. If you’re sick of being in the house, you can take your laptop and go sit in a café (just keep an eye out for wifi, or use your own network).
If you hate getting up early… Well, your commute is pretty quick. You more or less have to walk a couple of steps to the computer. Some people don’t even bother getting out of bed – they just open the computer and start working.
Since you’re being judged on your communication skills and results, remote working does have the odd side effect of actually making you a productive worker.
There were tonnes of remote jobs advertised. Literally thousands. From all over the world. It also didn’t appear to be a scam: since this platform’s been around for a REALLY long time. So I decided to give FlexJobs a good, old-fashioned review from a jobseeker’s perspective.
When I put this site through the Wayback Machine, it told me they’ve been around since 2007. I remember them from when I started freelancing in 2011 (along with something called “All Stay At Home”… which doesn’t seem to exist anymore).
It’s a good sign FlexJobs has lasted this long.
So let’s get down it, asking the most important questions first.
Is FlexJobs legit?
Lots of people are asking this. It’s understandable why you’d think they’re a scam. Especially since there are so many work from home scams at the moment. Of course, the telecommute job industry is a little savvier nowadays (though you still ought to be careful). But after reviewing them, I’ll say this: FlexJobs is definitely legit.
They’re no different to Indeed.com or Monster. In fact, if you do a quick search you’ll find many of the jobs posted elsewhere. That does take a bit of work, though.
So then, what’s on offer for remote job seekers?
Quite simply: job leads. However, applying for a work at home position through FlexJobs comes at a cost. Literally. The price is usually USD$15.00 per month. Jobs are divided into a rich range of different categories. Here you’ll likely find a remote position for almost every kind of job that you can do from home.
This is the stickler, though.
It’s often the cost that keeps people from using the platform. Which is totally understandable. There are a lot of pros to paying for and using their service, though. First and foremost, you have one, single place from which can apply to all relevant positions.
Seriously, it cuts out a lot of time from your job search. Secondly…
They filter out the work from home scammers.
In fairness, job boards like Remotive and Working Nomads do the same thing (for no subscription fee). But with this particular platform, you know you’re safe.
If you’re still humming and hawing about the cost, here’s a quick breakdown of the pros and cons of FlexJobs:
Work at home scams are screened out!
The categories and number of telecommute positions here is… Amazing. Really, up until this point I haven’t seen a wider selection on any remote job board.
Links are posted to the original job advertisement: though, to be fair, a lot of job boards do that.
Accredited by the US Better Business Bureau (if that means anything to you… I’m not American so I have no experience of what it’s worth).
The cost! They’re not expensive, really. A lot of people don’t like having to pay for a job board, though. Myself included.
Most positions advertised are published elsewhere. Which means you just have to spare a little more time to find them yourself.
Should I use FlexJobs?
Truth be told… That’s completely up to you. If you’re willing to shell out around US$15.00 a month, then go for it. You could consider it an investment. However, more people are willing to pay with time rather than money. Since its free to search for open positions on Flex Jobs, all you have to do is go through their listing. Then, search online to see if there’s another platform you can apply through.
I originally became a freelancer because I didn’t like working in a kitchen. The only other skills I had besides cooking were speaking English and being able to write. Since work as an English teacher was scarce, I turned to “writing for the Internet”.
This really meant content mills – Textbroker, The Content Authority and MediaPiston (who were actually pretty decent, but it’s dead now so don’t get any funny ideas).
There was no guarantee of work, but I turned the computer on every day. I wrote most days – sometimes very little, sometimes far, far too much.
I read many resources on freelancing. How to get clients, where to find them and new places to find work. As time went on, I managed to pick up a few of my own who paid better and delivered more consistent levels of work. At the end of every month, however, I was still living hand-to-mouth.
I loved the freedom of being able to work from anywhere. I enjoyed being able to shift my hours so I could meet friends who usually worked night shifts in bars. I had a lot of fun adventures disappearing off to another city and still being able to make an income. Yet at times, I was wondering if I could pay my rent next month.
Instability and Freedom, or Stability and Being Chained to a Desk
At some point, I realized that experience in a company might be valuable. So, I managed to blag my way into a job where I became a full-on online marketing manager. It was nice to have a stable salary, regular working hours and my own desk.
Unfortunately, the charm wore off pretty soon. I went into the office every day. I sat in the same place. While I still appreciated the stability and loved learning new things, the feeling of “sameness”, of being trapped in one room for forty hours a week, began to creep in.
I started to miss freelancing, or so I thought.
In truth, I wasn’t missing freelancing at all. I had diverse projects to work on (admittedly within a very niche industry). I was constantly learning new things and training my SEO muscles. I was making lots of money from our affiliate partners. What I was really missing, in fact, I was simply the lifestyle I had been accustomed to. While my hours were flexible, my presence was required in the office because it was the done thing.
When it comes to freelancing, people often make the choice for two reasons. The first is having their own business, trying their hand at being successful and seeing how much money they can make. The other is simply freedom. This kind of freedom is traditionally not thought to exist in most companies.
…these days, the online industry has made full-time jobs as flexible as freelance positions.
Things are different now. If you’re adamant about the option of working in your underwear (or in the Sahara or eye of a hurricane or wherever gives you the most “inspiration”), you don’t have to go at it alone. Remote jobs are plentiful – if a little competitive.
In essence: Things nowadays are not as clear-cut as “freelancing = freedom” and “employment = imprisonment”. There are freelance positions which require you to be on-site, and permanent employment contracts that let you work from anywhere in the world.
If you are looking for that kind of freedom, the key here is your perspective. If it is easier to find a freelance job, it’s best to build up long-term partnerships which can similar to regular employment. Forget about security for a minute and focus on regular pay. After all, you can still be fired pretty fast on a permanent contract. Though you’ll most likely receive some “I’m sorry” money.
So, What to Do?
Have a look at your industry. What are the most feasible options for you? Do you mind going into an office maybe only once or twice a week, but having partial location independence? If so, you may luck out on finding a local job. Are you so utterly fantastic that companies and clients will come to your door, begging for your services? Then maybe freelancing is the best option.
There are a lot of possibilities out there. How much money you make and whether you can live on it also depends on how in-demand you are. Those with programming skills will make more in a shorter amount of time – SEO experts fall somewhere a little lower in the pecking order. Unfortunately, writers tend to be seen as the grunts (unless you’re so fantastically good that you’ve written for Vogue, or something).
So, what’s my secret? Well, I mix it up.
I have freelance work which ebbs and flows. However, I strive to maintain some kind of “basis” income. Theoretically I could get a job in a coffee shop, though since I prefer location independence I went for a part-time remote job. Having at least a guaranteed coming in every month covers my bases – train ticket, health insurance, candle supply (I light a lot of smelly candles).
So, when it comes to flexibility there is a lot of wiggle room. It just means that you have to add a dash of creativity to your work strategy. Which shouldn’t be a problem… We are creatives after all, aren’t we?
Alright, there is an element of fun behind it. Personally, I quite like going through job listings. For me, it’s a lot like flat-hunting: it can be fun to see what different but similar roles entail, how you might respond to those challenges and learning what new skills you might pick up.
However, job searches become a royal pain in the neck when we are forced to look for them. The added pressure of needing a job right now, this Goddamn minute! also serves to suck any kind of joy out of the process. Then, of course, we have those wonderful “recruitment” tactics that plague the digital job search landscape. In many ways, it really feels like job seekers are a barrel of laughs for a woefully inept industry.
In the end, there are many of us forced to take jobs we know we will hate just to cover our basic expenses.
That being said, some of us are lucky to hold the wolf from the door for at least a few months. Maybe you’ve got substantial savings or you’re blessed with living in a country that provides decent social security (thanks, Germany). That can definitely take the pressure off – especially if you have dependents.
However, even with our basic expenses covered, looking for a job still often ends up being a painfully tedious, degrading and dehumanizing experience. It’s enough to make you want to run away and live in the woods.
I’m actually in the middle of a job search myself right now. I am also very much at my wit’s end. I applied, last month, to over a hundred companies.
Over a hundred companies.
Let that sink in for a minute. That is quite a lot for the space of a month. Now, let me tell you how many positive responses I got (i.e., interviews) I got.
Just under ten.
I had rejections left, right and center. Not even polite rejections, most of the time. A lot of them were automated responses. Not only is that intensely discouraging, it’s just plain rude.
“I’m clearly doing something wrong,” I thought. “Maybe my cover letters sounded too braggy. Maybe they weren’t bragging enough! Perhaps I should’ve included my entire job history – not just that relevant to digital marketing. Perhaps employers scoffed at the fact I don’t have a Bachelor’s degree – or maybe (in the case of German companies) my German was just too “foreign”.”
Maybe, I’m just not good enough.
The above musings are nonsense. I did everything right. If you’re applying for jobs in a professional manner, you’re doing everything right as well!
We’re taking all the right steps, yet we get very little in return. It just doesn’t seem very fruitful.
Sadly, this is a totally normal experience for job seekers. It certainly seems bleak while you’re in the thick of it. You’re throwing CVs left, right and centre. Despite that, you’ve also got to remember that it seems worse because you need the Goddamn job right now, this minute!
However, if you’re doing your level best to get out there, you should always try to keep in mind that…
…you’re doing fine!
That’s why I threw the following points together. For anyone who needs a bit of encouragement and perspective, read on!
Hiring Processes Are Painfully Outdated
Application Tracking Software, online application methods and even my beloved job boards all, for the most part, suck. Now, job boards can be a great way of discovering new companies and new positions. However, when you’re applying, I would strongly advise you apply to the company directly. If possible. Don’t go through a middleman. You’ll just get lost in a wave of resumes.
Companies also seem more than happy to throw out a job listing and then spend the next eternityresponding to candidates. They seem to think that automated responses constitute an actual response. Furthermore, many of them are woefully unprepared to deal with the onslaught of applications they receive.
I find it painfully hilarious when I get an interview for a job I applied to three months previously. While it is great to get an interview, it shows just what an utterly sad and pathetic state the HR industry is in. So remember, it’s not you. It’s them.
Getting the Perfect Position (Could) Take Months
Terrible, outdated HR practices have a lot to do with this. At the same time, finding the perfect “match” is a lot like dating – much of it is down to fit. Do you fit in with the company culture? If not, that’s no particular person’s fault. If anything, you’re doing yourself a favour by turning that job down.
Then we have other points: salary is naturally one of the most important. While a good work-life balance is paramount, salary is the main reason you want a job in the first place. If it weren’t, I’m pretty sure many of us would be running our own raccoon kingdoms or setting up a circus or whatever.
Then of course there’s the work-life balance the job itself offers. Are you allowed to work remotely (that point, for me, is non-negotiable at this stage). Will you actually enjoy your day-to-day tasks? What are your colleagues like?
Job interviews are vetting processes. Not just for the company, but for the candidate as well. Remember, when you go to an interview, you are also interviewing them. This whole process of finding a position, applying, seeing if you’re a good fit and maybe doing “trial” days can end up taking a long time.
Many HR Managers Have No Idea What They Want
I’ve been quite lucky in my working life. When I was a freelancer, clients wanted written content from me. When I looked for work as an English teacher, language schools hired me to teach English. Pretty straightforward. Then, I got into digital marketing. In both cases, they were small but successful companies who knew what they wanted. We didn’t even have HR departments.
The sad truth is that most HR “professionals” have no clue what they’re talking about when they write a job ad. It becomes even more apparent when they interview you. I’m not saying all HR people are like this but far too many are painfully unaware of what the job they’re interviewing for actually entails.
Consider Rejections As “Standard”
Occasionally I receive a “you were not successful” email, along with an unnecessarily long list of instructions about how to deal with rejection. I find it incredibly patronizing but I understand where they’re coming from. However, if you’re a grown up who has had several jobs then you should be well-hardened against rejection now.
If not, remember: rejection is more common than acceptance. Apply for jobs and go out there fully expecting to be rejected. Consider each rejection as just one more step towards your goal of getting a job. It’s as simple as that. Even if HR managers knew what they wanted and we had the best recruitment systems in the world, you would still get a healthy dose of rejections.
All in all, I’ll maintain that looking for a job sucks. Companies don’t make it any easier on candidates, which is why these four points are so very important for us to remember. We are not the problem. We need to power through, look for those diamonds in the rough (I REFUSE to use that stupid word “unicorn”) and build relationships that way.
I’m in the middle of a job search right now. My current focus is on finding remote work. As a digital marketer and copywriter, I have a job that can be done from anywhere with a laptop and an Internet connection. My current job is semi-remote, however instead of searching in my current city I’ve decided to expand my horizons and see how long it could take me to find a remote job. In that time, I have gained a few interesting insights which I think may benefit others…
Finding Remote Work: What Is a Remote Job?
Remote jobs, telecommuting positions, work from home… They are pretty much self-explanatory. Essentially, you carry out the tasks of whatever job you do from a remote location. There’s no need to go to an office and everything you do can be done from your laptop and phone (or devices that the company provides for you).
The amount of remote jobs out there is increasing. According to Remote.co, 23% of employees in 2015 did at least some of their work remotely. How much of this is simply employees taking their work home or being given at least one day a week to avoid the commute is unclear, but it certainly shows that it is a possibility. Remote.co also states that the telecommuting phenomenon is on the rise globally (which makes sense… considering the scope it can cover).
The New York Times also reported on the remote working phenomenon: on average, the typical telecommuter is someone in their late forties, earns an average of USD$58,000 and is part of a company that has more than 100 employees.
So, if you are determined to find a job that can be done efficiently from your sofa (or the park, or the moon if there’s wifi…) then you may just stand a decent chance of finding one.
The Remote Job Search: Things to Know About the Work Application Process
The remote job search may seem daunting to those who are used to the traditional method finding work. In reality, it’s not all that different. For most companies, you still have to apply with the usual CV, cover letter and references. The difference is usually in the interview process, as I have discovered.
Very recently, I was shortlisted for the role of Digital PR Specialist for a company in Sydney, Australia. I was given a small PR exercise to test out my skills in the area: afterwards, I was told that I would be contacted successfully for an interview. I have yet to be contacted, and perhaps they chose someone else and I won’t, but it did teach me something: companies offering remote work usually have longer application process and applicants are often asked to prove their knowledge before an actual interview.
I experienced the exact same kind of process with the time-tracking software company, Harvest. After stating that they enjoyed my application, I was invited to do an exercise about podcast advertising. Several other remote companies I have applied for use a similar system. When it comes to your search for remote work, be aware of these differences.
Finding Remote Work: Things to Keep in Mind
The application process for finding remote work is not the only thing you should keep in mind. Aside from being aware of the possible differences in the application process, my job search has also given me to mention the following tips and points to keep in mind:
Location is still important: Perhaps not as important as a “regular” job, but it still plays a role. A lot of distributed teams need members that can speak to one another in real-time, at least for a couple of hours a day. Some companies will therefore advertise remote roles for specific time zones (NOTE:I’d advise noting your current time zone on your CV). Some companies may only advertise remote positions in specific countries, or globally. You will see tags like “Remote – US Only”, “Remote – US or Canada”, or “Remote – Anywhere”.
Emphasize your cross-cultural work experience: A lot of remote and distributed teams have members living in and hailing from different countries. If you have experience of working in other countries or with other cultures (such as working on projects with overseas clients), don’t hesitate to mention it in your CV or cover letter.
Mention the languages you speak: In an international working environment, the more languages you speak, the better. This is especially true if you speak German, Spanish or Chinese. However, you have nothing to lose by highlighting your multilingual skills.
Have a significant online presence: You don’t have to be a master of Twitter or even a social media whiz (unless you’re going for a social media job… in which case I would be worried if you weren’t). As a remote worker though, you must have an online point of reference. This could just be a basic CV website linked to your LinkedIn account and an online portfolio of work. And don’t forget to add working links to your CV! You want to make your presence as easy as possible to find!
Show multiple possibilities for contact: Regardless of what country the company is in, include your phone number (and don’t forget to add the international dialing code…)! Get a Skype/Slack/Rocket account and put those contact details there, too. If you have multiple email addresses, put at least two down (and don’t forget to check them). You are literally exposing yourself as much as possible and making it easy for companies to contact you.
We’ll see how far this takes me. Regardless of the outcome, I have already gained a wealth of knowledge which will be useful in further searches for remote work.